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3D mammograms cost more, are they worth it?

If you’re a woman and you’ve had a mammogram anytime in the past few years, chances are good that you’ve been asked whether you’d like to have a 3D mammogram.

And you may have been told that 3D technology is more effective in detecting breast cancer. Conventional 2D screenings provide two views of each breast, one top to bottom and one side to side. 3D screenings take pictures from multiple angles.

However, an investigation by Kaiser Health News finds marketing may be the real reason why hospital technicians are pitching 3D mammograms to patients.

Manufacturers, hospitals, doctors and others have spent a lot of money developing and promoting the technology. Yet, according to Kaiser Health News, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has not yet found the new technology significantly more effective in detecting breast cancer.

A 2018 analysis in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found 3D screenings may slightly increase cancer detection rates, finding one additional breast tumor for every 1,000 U.S. women screened.

While studies continue, 3D equipment manufacturers have paid doctors and teaching hospitals more than $9.2 million related to research and promote 3D mammograms. While half of those dollars were invested in research, the other half covered speaking fees, travel, dinners and drinks.

Manufacturers have also spent $14 million marketing 3D mammograms to patients. As one might expect, 3D screening costs more – and those higher costs, about $50 more per screening, have been passed on through higher insurance rates and to taxpayers.

Medicare has paid an additional $230 million for 3D mammograms in the three years since it began covering the screenings in 2015.

Have you had a 3D mammogram? What was your experience? Were you told about the extra cost? Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.